How to Cope With Losing a Pet: The Day My Dog Died

Updated on July 9, 2019
Leonard Tillerman profile image

Leonard is a former teacher and principal who has also been a writer for the past two decades. Writing and animals are his true loves.

The Day My Dog Died: How to Cope With Losing a Pet
The Day My Dog Died: How to Cope With Losing a Pet

Pepper Was My Best Friend

We all have intense moments in our lives which leave imprints that last forever. They can be wonderful and fantastic memories, or dreadful and ghastly. Whatever the case may be, memories never truly leave our mind. One such moment which is frozen in time for me is the day my first dog Pepper died. This actually happened over 30 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. It is still that vivid and clear in my brain.

Pepper was my best friend in what can only be called a very troubled childhood. My father had run off from our family when I was at a very young age. This left my brother, Pepper, and me living with my mother who was always working to make ends meet. It is in this tangled web of poverty and turmoil that Pepper and I formed an unbreakable bond. He was an affectionate, loyal, and devoted Shetland Sheepdog. Everywhere I went he came. For all intents and purposes, we were virtually inseparable.

Then one day out of the blue, my father had returned home in an effort to reconnect with my brother and me. It took some time, but after about a month we were partaking in somewhat regular visits. On one particular weekend, he decided to take us with him to his friend’s cottage. I was reluctant to go anywhere without my true buddy Pepper, and I begged and pleaded that he be allowed to come as well. After much pestering, my father agreed and Pepper accompanied us to the cottage.

This was to be the last trip we ever took together. Upon our very arrival, Pepper somehow jumped out the open door of our parked car and took off after a fleeing rabbit. He chased the rabbit right onto the highway where they were both hit and killed by a truck. That was the day my dog died.

The sorrow I felt after the loss of Pepper was extreme. I was utterly inconsolable. I carried this guilt and grief with me for years and would not even consider the option of getting another dog. I saw that prospect as an act of ultimate betrayal. However, when I finally learned how to cope with losing Pepper, I was once again able to enjoy having pets in my life again.

It is bitterly sad to lose your beloved pet, but that grief is only intensified if you are never able to love another. Helping other pet owners is essentially why I have written this article. Read on to discover the various ways I learned how to cope with losing a pet, which made life better for me and my adopted dogs.

When learning how to cope with losing a pet, it is important to remember that grief does not follow a schedule.
When learning how to cope with losing a pet, it is important to remember that grief does not follow a schedule.

1. Recognize That Grief Does Not Follow a Schedule

There are many different theories in regards to how people experience grief. One of the most popular is from the book On Grief and Grieving, by psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler. In it, they contend that the five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. When I think back to the death of my dog Pepper, I did undergo these five stages, but I had other emotions and stages as well. Also, they did not really fall into any “set” order. It is very important to remember that everyone grieves differently and according to their own experiences.

While I certainly underwent the grief process, my feelings and emotions would change daily and in a back and forth motion. Just when I thought I had begun to accept the death, I would be hit with waves of anger, guilt, and depression. There was not any type of neat and orderly progression. I learned that grief does not follow any type of preordained schedule. I also discovered that being able to cope meant understanding it was fine to feel how I needed to at that moment.

Crying is a key coping strategy when dealing with the death of a beloved pet.
Crying is a key coping strategy when dealing with the death of a beloved pet.

2. It’s Ok to Cry

In order to come to terms with the loss of your pet, you will first have to give yourself permission to grieve. While this may seem a little obvious at first, it is nevertheless very difficult to do. According to grief coach Dora Carpenter, our society is typically a fast paced environment which does not have much patience for a long grieving process. We are expected to get over it quickly and move on.

When considering that we have lost something which we love dearly, such expectations are ridiculous. Instead of feeling bad or guilty about grieving for your pet, try to understand that it is a necessary part of healing. This whole process will also more than likely be accompanied by many tears. That too is perfectly fine and a much-needed part of the process.

In fact, in a study conducted by researcher William Frey, it was found that emotional tears contained toxic substances that build up during emotional stress. Crying, in turn, is a beneficial process which removes toxins from the body. In other words, crying it out makes a person feel much better. Considering all of this, giving yourself permission to grieve and cry is an actual key coping strategy when dealing with the death of a beloved pet.

A good support network is will help you cope with your loss.
A good support network is will help you cope with your loss.

3. Find Meaningful Support

As sure as the sun will come up tomorrow, you will encounter people who will minimize your loss. Unfortunate comments such as, “It was just a pet, you can get a new one,” will be made in attempt to make you feel “better.” In my own case, my father’s favorite line was to tell me it could have been much worse and I was lucky someone other than my dog didn’t get hurt.

Believe it or not, these people are actually trying to help in their own way. However, what they are actually doing in reality is minimizing your heartbreaking loss and making the situation much worse. They could not possibly understand the bond you had with your pet. It is best to avoid these individuals until you are in a better place emotionally.

That does not mean that you should avoid everyone, however. There are a number of people and support groups who will be understanding and give you an empathetic and sympathetic ear to express your grief to. Fellow pet lovers, veterinarians, grief counselors and pet loss support groups are wonderful places to turn. The following books and support websites are excellent resources to help you learn to cope with losing a pet:

Books

  • Grieving the Death of a Pet, by B.J. Carmack
  • Saying Goodbye to the Pet you Love, by L.A. Green and J. Landis
  • How to Roar: Pet Loss Grief Recovery, by Robin Jean Brown
  • The Loss of a Pet, by Wallace Sife
  • When a Family Pet Dies: A Guide to Dealing with Children’s Loss, by Joann Tuzeo-Jarolmen

Support Websites and Hotlines

  • The Animal Love and Loss Network (on Facebook)
  • ASPCA National Pet Loss Helpline (1-877-474-3310)
  • Rainbow Bridge
  • The Humane Society of the United States (information on coping with the loss of a pet).
  • The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (nonprofit association dedicated to helping people cope with the loss of a pet)

Memorializing your pet will ultimately help you to cope.
Memorializing your pet will ultimately help you to cope.

4. Memorialize Your Pet

One of the most valuable methods for coping with the loss of a pet is planning a memorial. This can take many forms such as:

  • Planning a funeral or memorial service.
  • Burying your pet’s ashes underneath a tree which is newly planted in their honor.
  • Creating a plaque in memory of your beloved pet which is placed at their final resting place.
  • Donate in your pet’s name to organizations which help animals.
  • Put together a slideshow of your favorite moments with your pet.

Whatever the case may be, the memorial is an opportunity to come to terms with your loss. It will essentially force you to face the loss and begin the very important grieving process. It will also allow you to relive many of the great memories you had with your pet. Furthermore, you will be able to connect with others who understand your loss and can provide that supportive network which you will need. Lastly, it will honor the life of your pet and will stand as an everlasting tribute to their life.

Our goal is not to forget about our pet . . . it is to learn how to cope with losing them. In my personal circumstance, when Pepper died, none of this occurred. There was never any celebration of life or any type of closure. He was just gone. This left an empty hole in my heart which took a lot of time and deliberate effort to repair.

Taking care of yourself will help you cope with your loss.
Taking care of yourself will help you cope with your loss.

5. Take Care of Yourself

When considering grief, many individuals see it as a sad and tragic time. While that is certainly true, it is also much more than that. Grieving is actually an exhausting process which takes a tremendous toll on a person emotionally, mentally and physically. It takes an abundance of energy to grieve.

Unfortunately, people who are undergoing this emotional turmoil will not tend to take care of themselves very well. Lack of sleep, poor eating habits, weakened immune systems and little exercise are all typical when grieving the loss of your beloved pet. However, to properly cope with this loss, it is vitally important to reverse this unhealthy trend and take proper care of yourself.

For instance, eating nutritious food can provide you with essential vitamins and minerals which will help your physical health and improve your mood at the same time. Proper sleep quality is also vital to self-care and has a huge impact on improving emotional stability and mood. Lastly, exercise will produce pain-killing endorphins in the body which will, in turn, improve mood and feelings of well-being.

It is important to plan ahead for triggers when grieving.
It is important to plan ahead for triggers when grieving.

6. Plan Ahead for Triggers

One of the most difficult things for me to handle when I was dealing with the death of my dog Pepper was the constant reminders of him. We were inseparable and did everything together, and as such, I was reminded of him and our time together every single day. Something as simple as walking down the pet food aisle in the grocery store, or passing our favorite park, would bring forth a flood of emotions and grief. In truth, I was constantly encountering things which would trigger my grief in a negative way. It was only when I acknowledged and planned ahead for these inevitable triggers that I was truly able to reverse this negative trend.

Essentially, the constant triggers were reawakening grief within me. I would immediately remember Pepper, and more importantly . . . the day he died. When I was triggered I did not recall the amazing times which we had spent together. I was entirely fixated upon the day he died. After the passage of time, I began to accept that there would always be triggers, and I began to prepare for them. They could not simply just be avoided.

I slowly began to turn the negative into a positive. I would force that awful day out of my head and deliberately remember the fun and loving times we had spent together. In this way, the memories which were triggered began to be pleasant and happy ones. It was not an easy process and there were setbacks. However, it was one of the most powerful coping mechanisms I was able to employ. Instead of crying when triggered, I would often smile. To properly prepare and plan ahead for triggers, the following are some useful steps:

  • Always be prepared: Realize and acknowledge that inevitable triggers will be everywhere
  • Focus on the positive: Remember the good times you had with your pet when your memories are triggered. Try to recall the laughing and playing.
  • Employ distraction techniques: Sometimes a memory or trigger will simply be too raw and powerful (such as a doggy birthday). Use a distraction technique such as getting together with friends to get through the day.
  • Acknowledge various emotions: There will be a number of emotions you encounter when learning to accept and plan ahead for triggers. You may be laughing and crying at the same time!
  • Be easy on yourself: It all takes time and there will be struggles. Be easy on yourself and move forward at your own speed.

Being kind to others is an excellent way to cope.
Being kind to others is an excellent way to cope.

7. Be Kind to Others

There can be little doubt that being patient and kind to yourself is a key part of coping with the grief which accompanies losing a pet. Interestingly, being good and kind to others will help you a great deal as well. There are a number of simple but effective ways in which we can be kind to others. Some typical examples are:

  • Showing a genuine interest in them.
  • Smiling and being polite.
  • Helping with daily tasks.
  • Volunteering your time to help out a worthy cause.
  • Donating to important animal rescue organizations.

While all of these methods will help others, they are also great ways to cope with losing a pet. For instance, they will distract us from the sadness and grief which we are experiencing. Even these fleeting distractions are so very much appreciated. Also, kindness greatly improves the way we feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. When we are kind, a number of stress-reducing and calming chemicals such as serotonin and oxytocin are released into the body. In turn, this all works together to make the individual feel less anxious, happier and more relaxed. Being kind to others is an excellent way to cope with losing a pet. Kindness, too, benefits ourselves as well as others!

Getting back to routines and schedules will help you to cope.
Getting back to routines and schedules will help you to cope.

8. Maintain a Routine

The ability to keep a consistent routine in your life can be a very useful way to help cope with the loss of a pet. It will provide purpose and structure in your life and distract you from the overwhelming sadness. Getting back to your usual routines, hobbies and activities will bring a whole new level of happiness and enjoyment into what can otherwise be a very unbearable time.

Also, you may be responsible for other pets and this is an important factor which should not be overlooked. If that is indeed the case, they are going to need consistent structure and routines as well. Similar to you, your other pets will very likely be mourning the loss, too. By getting back to routines and schedules, you will be helping them and yourself deal with the loss of your pet.

Planning to get a new pet helps some people begin to gradually move on.
Planning to get a new pet helps some people begin to gradually move on.

9. Consider Planning to Get a New Pet

Our final method to cope with the loss of a pet is somewhat controversial. Many people will begin planning to get a new pet to help ease the passing of their departed one. However, it is important to note that this is something which is very personal in nature and everyone will approach it differently. Some people will want to do this immediately, while others will wait years or have no interest whatsoever in ever getting a new pet.

It is important that if someone does decide to plan to get a new pet, that they are clearly ready for it and not just doing it as a virtual “rebound reaction.” This would not be fair to the memory of their deceased pet, and certainly not to the new animal. When and if you are ready to start planning for a new pet, it is very likely that you will just know. There should be a feeling of peace within you. Still sadness, yes, but also peace. Not only will this help you with the grieving process, but it will assist another animal as well. There are countless animals which need to be adopted to a good home. You can make that happen for them as you continue to cope and come to terms with the loss of your pet.

Final Thoughts

The loss of your pet can be an incredibly sad and challenging time. My personal opinion is that the loss of my first dog was one of the most difficult times of my life. I could barely function for a long period of time. It was that devastating! However, I eventually learned how to cope with the loss of my pet.

It was certainly not an easy experience. There were many ups and downs as I tried to figure it all out on my own. That was 30 years ago, and the memories are still fresh within my mind. However, the difference is that I now remember the good times with a smile on my face.

Nevertheless, while writing this article, I often had to look at the words while my vision was blurred by tears. It produced a range of emotions within me as I virtually relived the past. My genuine hope remains that my own experience will help others learn how to cope with losing a pet. If that was accomplished then it was well worth it.

Please Contribute to the Discussion:

What do you feel the best coping method is?

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Resources

  1. On Grief and Grieving. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross M.D. and David Kessler. 2014.
  2. "Give Yourself Permission to Grieve." Dora Carpenter. Ezine articles. 2017.
  3. "The Miracle of Tears." Jeremy Bergman. 1993.
  4. "Ten Ways to Cope With the Loss of Your Pet." Cedarview Animal Hospital, Ottawa.
  5. "Three Benefits of Memorial Tributes." Beth Jackson. Beryl Martin Tributes. 2015
  6. "Happy Brain, Happy Life." Susan Reynolds. Psychology Today. 2011.
  7. "What is Kindness?" The Positive Psychopedia.
  8. "5 Ways to Deal With a Pet’s Death." Aleisha Fetters. Prevention Magazine. 2012.
  9. "Ten Tips on Coping With Pet Loss." Moira Anderson Allen, M.Ed. The Pet Loss Support Page.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        Anna Casamento Arrigo 

        5 weeks ago

        I lost my first very best friend when I was 14. She escaped her leash and ran under an oncoming taxi. I,for so very very long felt such an enormous guilt and it took over 10 years before I was able to Welcome another beautiful being into my life. That loss, however, remains to this day,and while I try to live in my Julie’s happy times with me,ei image of her after being trampled and crushed under the wheels of that taxi,have never left. I managed to grieve the passing of four other fur babies, but, my Jager has become an incredible emotionally charged roller coaster ride of emotions. I value this article because,of, I have learned something that may help me grieve as I need to do,but,most importantly, to use/anticipate/plan for those triggers! This is such a wonderful piece on steps we can take and understanding our pain,but moreover, doing something that will help alleviate some of it. Thank you!

        (I do have my 13+,Leila, a shih tzu, who had shown signs of her grief: hiding,refusing food,sleeping most of the day,and refusing to be touched. She’s doing better. But, I can definitely feel her change and grief as well. They’d been together over 9 years.)

      • profile image

        Mariko 

        7 weeks ago

        I look my pet less than a week ago. I felt guilty and resentful. We never spent much time together. I felt we should have been together longer. The memories were too few. It was my birthday wish for him to survive and live longer but my prayer wasn't favored. He died few days before I celebrate my birthday or not. This was the most saddest birthday of my life. I still can't cope with his loss. He was the most special among all my dogs.

      • profile image

        Vincenzo 

        2 months ago

        I lost my beloved Joey yesterday on September 2nd. It devasted me. She was 14 years old and had a good life, I am sure of it, but still can't believe I won't be able to see her again when I'll be back to my hometown for Christmas. She was brave enough to wait for summer to end to allow my brother and me to see her in our small hometown one last time (because of our jobs we don't live there and Joey stayed with my mother). We got her when I was 14, because my brother always wanted a beagle. My mother at first was contrary, but when she first hold a three months old Joey in her hand it was just love. For the following 5 years she's been the first and last face I'd see every day. After that I started university and left town. I would see her only during holidays, but I would always-always talk about her to everyone I met. I was so happy to have her in my life. I loved her with all my heart. It would not matter the distance and the time apart, as soon as she saw us again, she would start to wag its tail and jump all over us. She also loved to eat, and would do anything for a bite, even jump on the table to steal a slice of ham. She used to sit next to us when eating at the table and wait for anyone to give her something. She was lovely. She also loved to have a stroll or swim in the sea. She loved to lay in the sun and to play with every kind of toys when younger. She loved fresh bread (she could smell it everywhere) and to be petted under her big ears. I loved to just give her infinite kisses and lay next to her to the ground and sleep together next to each other. I would also try to annoy her by blowing wind on her face, or trying to block her way to the kitchen so she would had to find a way to go past my legs. We had so much fun together. And she was so loved, I can't be more grateful for all the love she received. All of my friends would come over to see her (even take her out if I was out of town) and send me pictures of her if not there. She loved my mother, who's always been with her and cooked for her a numberless times. She loved my brother for the long walks. She loved my father as well, which doesn't live with us but used to come over often to take her out (she would recognize the way he buzzed and get instantly excited, cuz she knew she was soon going to go out). Hope she loved me as well, I did my best to show her I much I cared about her. She's just been the best companion I could have asked for, my best friend. She would always be there for me, no matter what, and I am going to deeply miss her. She's been with me half of my life and she was just so important to me. I want to believe she had a good life, full of good food and people who loved her (she was famous in all Italy thanks to all of the stories me and my brother would tell anyone). I will miss you Joey, thank you for being the best friend I could have asked for and for having made these years unforgettable. Thanks for keeping my mother company when we weren't there and thanks for the memories and the good times. I will never forget the way you barked when asking for food or the smell of your fur when i kissed you. Hope you are in a better place, full of food and friends. Please watch over us. Love you immensely forever.

      • profile image

        Marcela 

        2 months ago

        I lost my best friend a month and half ago. My sweet Brucey. She made me unbelievably happy. I feel like my heart stopped beating since she died. It still feels surreal. I wake up expecting to see her everyday; then reality sets in, it’s pure torture. She was diagnosed with a rare neuromuscular disease. A month after diagnosis she was gone. She was in my arms when she took her last breath. Regret and guilt are a constant in my mind. Brucey was my other self. I am eternally grateful for all the love, loyalty and unmatched companionship she unselfishly provided for ten years. I will love you until my last breath dear Brucey. Forever my faithful.

      • profile image

        Sebastian 

        4 months ago

        I lost my dog named Oreo 3 years ago. He was only 2 or 3 years old when he passed. I dropped a slice of cheese, and me being the lazy good for nothing that I am, went to do something before picking it up. I forgot about it, and started playing some video game. I looked next to me and there he was dead on the legs of the chair. I called it out to my parents, I was in denial so it sounded like a joke. They didn't believe it until they went downstairs. We drove the body to an animal hospital, they basically said "this right here is a dead dog." They chose the cheapest option, dumping ashes in the mountains. Their excuse was, I think he would have liked that...BS. I didn't feel emotion. I was numb. Now, whenever I think of my old dog, I get a mental image of my new one being dead next to the chair. If I didn't drop that piece of cheese, maybe I would still be somewhat sane.

      • profile image

        Sheila 

        4 months ago

        I lost my best friend of 14 years last night. I can't stop crying. My life feels empty without him. He was always following me around the house when i was cleaning or whatever. My life will never be the same. His name was Kip, he was a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, the bestest friend I've ever had and was very much loved.

      • profile image

        Ruthie 

        6 months ago

        My Pixie died 4 days ago. She had a bowel obstruction and died of surgery complications. I took her to the vet every day for close to 10 days and they were unable to save her. I feel guilty that if I had taken her somewhere else she would have survived; that maybe a better skilled doctor would have saved her. How do I stop blaming myself? She was hurting.... I sang and held her telling her it was going to be ok. I feel the vet failed me and I failed her. My heart is broken. How long does it takes to start feeling better.

      • profile image

        Anon 

        7 months ago

        I just lost my senior dog yesterday (April 12th 2019) which i had for 13 of my 21 years on this earth. I had a very rough childhood and she was there for me in ways nobody else could. I still have problems with depression and anxiety and i catch myself just about to call her name so she'd come over for comfort but then i realize ''Oh.. Right..''

        I've recently lost relatives too but that pain doesn't even come close to this. I've lost my best friend in the whole world.

      • profile image

        Al 

        7 months ago

        I lost my dog Luca on Monday he died next to me. I miss him so much. He was the most incredible dog. I can’t seem to stop crying over his loss.

      • profile image

        Karen 

        9 months ago

        My beloved baby, Daniel died today. He was only 7 yo and had been the love of our lives. I felt grief and guilt that I was not able to give him the best life he could have, that I was not able to spend enough time with him and denied playing with him whenever he's so excited about it. I am so devastated that I got to spend only the last day with him. I nursed him the whole day and when I put him down because I need to take a bath- that was when he left :( He didn't even said goodbye to me. My baby, still outsmarted me despite the pain he's been feeling due to kidney failure. I love you so much, Daniel. I know my words don't mean a thing anymore but I can't let go. I wish I had done more.. I am sorry I was not good enough. :'(

      • profile image

        Deric 

        10 months ago

        Brenda that’s so sad I’m literally in tears.I hope things get better for you.I miss my lil guy so much.I still talk to him at his grave.Losing an animal is like losing a loved one.I pray everyone on here is ok and in good spirits.Itbtruly does hurt.

      • profile image

        Brenda 

        10 months ago

        At 3:53 am on 1/1/19 I lost my best friend Ally. Buddy and I were by her side when it happened and I am forever thankful that we were there for her in her last moment. I miss her so much. She was the first and last person I kissed and hugged during the work week and now she's not there. I no longer see here peeking out the window waiting for me as I pull up. The ottoman she used to jump on to get on the bed is still there, her food bowl still has the last vitamin she left behind from that night's dinner. In the mornings I still walk to the pantry to get her medication out but then I remember she's not here so I put the medication back. It's unfair that they are only here for such a short amount of time and I hope that she knew how much I loved her.

      • profile image

        Deric 

        10 months ago

        My teacup Yorkie Gizmo died today.It is so hard.I love and miss him so much.I can still hear his little footsteps in the hallway.

      • profile image

        10 months ago

        My dog died today im really sad

      • profile image

        Piedmontatl 

        12 months ago

        My dog died two weeks ago today. I miss Jazz so much, my constant companion throughout the day. Just feel so lost.

      • profile image

        Anna Casamento Arrigo 

        14 months ago

        My Julie got off her leash and was hit by a car. Her hip bone ripped out of its socket and tore through her skin. She had several surgeries but infection set in. She stopped walking altogether,eating, and, I swear, she had constant tears in her eyes. We had to let her go. The guilt was immense. It took me over 20+years before I became a dog mommy again!

      • profile image

        DG Lamb 

        15 months ago

        Very helpful article Leonard. Important information to share.

      • profile image

        Haley Belinda 

        16 months ago

        Excellent guidance, I too dreading the loss of my beloved pet of 12 years. As an ex- nurse, I studied the work of Dr Kubler Ross. It is an excellent model for loss of any kind. Thank you for your open expression, I believe it will help a lot of people.

      • profile image

        Julia Schmeelk 

        16 months ago

        Great info. My beloved dog is near the end of his life and we, my husband and I are dreading the loss.

      • profile image

        Sharon K. Connell 

        16 months ago

        Thanks for this article, Leonard. It's very important. I wrote an article on my blog when I lost each of my beloved furbabies. It helped a lot.

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        24 months ago from Houston, Texas

        You have certainly shared the grief you felt upon the loss of your dear Pepper. Those of us who love our pets never forget them. They are a part of our lives and will remain so in our memories as long as we live.

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